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Belfast City Council flags plan for Smart District

Belfast City Hall at night
Belfast City Hall at night
Image source: Belfast City Council

Belfast City Council has announced proposals for a Smart District to support innovation and the transformation of the city centre.

It is one of the main initiatives within the council’s Smart Belfast Innovation Framework for 2022-27, aimed at promoting the use of digital tools in tackling the city’s major challenges.

The council’s Innovation Office is working with partners and industry to attract co-investment for the approach and is tapping into £120 million of digital funding from the Belfast Region City Deal.

The investments will be used to enhance the city’s digital infrastructure and provide funding to encourage businesses and academia to collaborate on city challenges.

The Belfast Smart District will be focused on the city centre, drawing on high levels of digital connectivity, a data architecture and urban data platform. This will require a business case for investment in advanced wireless networking, exploiting Belfast’s local full fibre network, the development of a ‘site as a service’ product to make physical assets available to support connectivity, and a shared technology architecture.

Among the district’s functions will be to provide a sandbox and testbed environment for universities and businesses to develop and test new products and services. The council is working on this element with organisations including the Information Commissioner’s Office, Ada Lovelace Institute and Health and Safety Executive.

Wider replication

The long term aim is to use the experience of projects developed in the district to replicate them across the wider city and rest of Northern Ireland. The framework document cites the potential example of encouraging more active travel.

This will involve the development of a knowledge capture mechanism and a procurement playbook.

There are also requirements to build governance and operational capacity, establish a sustainable financing model, and support co-design with citizens.

Cllr Emmet McDonough-Brown, chair of the council’s strategic policy and resources committee, said: “Digital technology is key to the growth of our future economy, but it also offers opportunities to create innovative solutions for tackling major city challenges, such as climate change and healthy urban living.

“We’re committed to working with our city’s innovators, researchers, businesses and local communities to use these technologies to deliver new and better services, experiences, jobs and investment opportunities – and a richer quality of life for our citizens, as set out in The Belfast Agenda, the city’s community plan.

“In particular, Belfast’s Smart District will bring this innovation focus to our city centre. It will be a collaborative testbed for new ideas and technologies that maximise investment opportunities, while directly addressing the challenges associated with the city centre. The Smart District will also showcase the best of our city’s amazing innovators in industry and academia to the world.

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